Hey, I haven’t spoken to Aldyth in years....if anyone knows how to find her, do me a solid, and e-mail me, please? I’d like to know she’s still doing well!
TILTING AT WINDMILLS #13
By Brian Hibbs
This is a special "Tidbits" installment of Tilting at Windmills (with a very special Tip of the TaW hat to Sandy McMurray for that one) with a bunch of brief bits relating to no particular subject or theme.
* As you read this, I've made a whole bunch of progress on the two challenges in last month's TaW.
A) The Publisher Challenge: 2 weeks ago, Marvel's Director of Sales/Direct Market, Lou Bank, became the first publisher to spend a week working at my store. I'm not going to go into gobs of detail because, hopefully, it will be the focus of next month’s column. With any luck, I'll be able to turn a fair chunk of the column over to Lou himself. The only reason I bring it up now is that (I think) it went real well: Lou and I each learned bunches from each other, and I think we both walked away with a much clearer picture as to why each one does what they do. By the time you read this, that column will have been out for months. With any luck (and with the success from Lou's run), I'll have 3 or 4 more people signed up. To those of you who've told me you want to volunteer your store for this type of project I say "do it!" We can do nothing but learn and educate.
B) The Retailer's Non-Organization: Again, as I write this, the column hasn't even seen print. But, I've already got 134 names to start with! I'm flabbergasted! I can be a tad pessimistic, so I didn't expect to have that many by the end of the summer. I guess I have to upgrade my goal to 250 by the time of the San Diego con...
* On that same note, Don asked me to explain the term "ashcan", which I used a couple of times in last month's column. I'm no expert on historical ashcans (which I believe were pre-publication "dummy" copies to secure copyright), but I can explain the way we use the term today. Basically, it's a set of photocopied 8-1/2 by 11" sheets folded in half and stapled to make a little black & white comic book (though it's not a small as your traditional "mini-comic" which is often a sheet folded in quarters). These are usually pre-publication comics, and often signed and numbered by the artist. They function as at least 3 things: 1) as a cool "collectible" (though I loath that term...), 2) as promotion for an upcoming title (and, in some ways, as a barometer of how to order a comic), and 3) as a way of financing the production of a comic book. As you should know, the creator hands his work in to the publisher about a month before it ships, so they can get it to the printer. Meanwhile, the publisher doesn't see any money for the book until 30-90 days after it's shipped, so a creator may have a 3-6 month wait from creation to payment. Now, most publishers do pay out some form of advance on royalties, but when you're self- (or collectively-) publishing, this is not always an option. It's fairly hard to create when you don't have food on your table, or a roof over your head. So, ashcans, sold directly from creator to retailer, create a way to "subsidize" that fallow period without payment.
* Just last week DC's Retailer Participation Program had it's annual meeting in Burbank. The one thing that I want to touch upon here is that it seems that DC is making a very strong effort to work with retailers this year. DC's theme this year was "The Year of Change", and while I'm not going to try and quantify how much change, and is it enough (In my humble opinion), there are certainly some heartening signs. Besides announcing that they would do no more distributor-coordinated tours (Thank god!), they announced that they would be making a much stronger push on retailer driven promotions (such as P.O.P. and co-op). This is good news. Let's hope it works out.
* Coming from that same meeting, I was astonished by how many retailers who have never met me expected me to be some sort of anti-Marvel ogre. No, we don't hunt the Marvel Zombies down, skin 'em, then hang their pelts in the back room as a trophy (and Lou Bank can attest to that...) I don't particularly like most mainstream comics (not just Marvel), but that hardly means they're banned from the store, or hidden behind other comics. I carry them, I just don't push them.
I'm going to turn the back half of my column here to my Promotions Director, Aldyth Beltane, since I think she has something valuable to say to retailers at-large. I'm going to sneak out the back door (I've heard the run-through in Dress Rehearsal a whole bunch of times now), but I'll see you in 30...
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Women customers and how to keep them
By Aldyth Beltane
Promotions Director Comix Experience
Once again, the topic of Women in Comic Book Stores, (or Why there are So Few) is the subject of discussion. As a woman who has been on both sides of the counter over the years, I've developed a number of insights and opinions on the matter.
In the more than twenty years that I've been involved with comics, there have been a number of changes in the industry. I've seen the birth of the direct market, and the growth of independent publishing companies, two developments within themselves that help to make comics more attractive for women. I'll explain that presently. In the last ten years in which I've been involved with comics professionally, there have been other changes that have helped to introduce women to the comics world, but the changes have been slow, inadequate, and the most effective ones were not even designed with the idea of bringing more women into comics.
One given that I'll use in this column is that we would all like to have more women reading and buying comics. I assume all the retailers reading this are intelligent grown-ups who would not discount a possible income that could be gained from customers based on gender. Not knowing how to encourage a woman as a customer is an entirely different thing from actively discouraging, and at least in theory we've all moved beyond that.
Having said that, there are still two basic "problems" to address. The first is how to bring women into the store, the second is how to bring them back as repeat customers. As a comic reader, I was an easy customer. I learned to read from comics, and progressed swiftly from Archie, to Superboy and the LSH, to whatever comics I could get my hands on, every week, at the local newsstand. Now those were places to make a young girl uncomfortable – comics and the smell of cigar smoke were linked completely through my early years. But the comics made me so happy that those things didn't matter. One of the best changes of recent years is the development of pride and concern for store appearance and atmosphere. We hear so much more about stores that are clean and well organized, with staffs that are intelligent and articulate. The dark, dusty comic store is swiftly becoming a cliché of the past, which makes the whole idea of comics more appealing to everyone, regardless of gender.
So you have a reputable store, one that you'd be proud to have even Hillary Clinton walk into. How do you get her there? Well, there are comics that women will be inclined to read, and surprisingly enough, different women are drawn to different types of comics, just like guys! Comix Experience has a comparatively large percentage of women as customers, and the only book close to a universal is Sandman! Other books that are popular with women are the other Vertigo titles, Hate, Love and Rockets, Eightball, Marvel Mutant titles, Ironwood, Ann Rice adaptations, and many others. As one can tell, a varied list indeed. The only thing all these books have in common is that overall, they are story/character driven books. So get these titles into your store! Put them in the window! Take out an ad that features Death, or a Barker book, or L&R! On the mainstream books you can get great co-op rates, and as for the independents, refer back to Brian Hibbs' articles on promoting them, lest I reiterate. We just ran an ad in a local paper for Death: the High Cost of Living, and among the response we got, were calls from a number of people who had never read comics, but just thought the concept interesting enough to call and ask about it!
So these women see Vampire Lestat or whatever in your window or ad, come in to buy it, then what? As with any customer, a smart retailer is interactive. You see (or ask) what a customer is interested in, and build from that base. In general, its the nature of comics to want to read more, once someone enjoys reading comics at all. If she buys Sandman, show her Hellblazer, Shade, Death. If a girl's a Love and Rockets fan, show her Madman, or maybe Palookaville. Hate and Eightball seem a matched set. If a woman comes in with a male friend and seems bored or uncomfortable, show her a Sandman. I've had wonderful success selling Sandman to "Girlfriends" of guys who come into the store.
One important thing – when a woman comes into your store, be as nice and polite as would to any customer, but don't treat her like a girl. Most of your male customers aren't stupid and wouldn't shop with you if you treated them as if they were. Your female customers are the same way.
Now to refer back to what I mentioned earlier, in regards to changes in the comics industry. The changes that have brought more women into the comics industry are not the ones specifically designed to do so! This is something extremely important to realize. Titles designed for specific "female appeal" have, to a one, been insulting and poorly executed. To clarify, I am referring to women here, not kids. The comics that have brought more women into the industry are the ones geared to intelligent people, the ones that have brought more readers into comics. More women involved in the creative process of comics publishing is a subtle, but important factor here as well. Yes, women have been cartooning for a century (see Trina Robbins soon-to-be-published book for more on that subject) but now even more women are taking strong roles in writing and editing. In addition to other things, this eliminates a large amount of the off-hand sexism that often inadvertently slips into comics. I know for many women this makes for a far more enjoyable read. But at the same time, this type of psychological growth should be a reflection of the growth of society itself, so I'm not certain if it's directly related to comics.
Last, don't be afraid to hire a woman to work in your store. But don't hire a token, someone with no knowledge of, or interest in comics. That's worse, because it fosters the notion too long held that women don't read comics, by a very public example. I shudder every time someone asks me if I "read comics." There would be literally no reason for me to work in a comics store if I didn't, regardless of my gender.
At a time when the industry is at a crossroads between the innovative and the retread, women and other former non-comics readers are important and necessary to allow for that tilt to the side of growth.